Internationaljournal of Management Vol. 22 No. 2 June 2005 193
Does Perceived Threat to Organizational Status
Moderate the Relation hetween Organizational
Commitment and Work Behavior?
University of Tubingen, Germany
Catholic University of Eichstatt, Germany.
Drawing on research on social identity, the authors postulated that perceived threat to
organizational reputation moderates the relationship between attitudinal organizational
commitment (AOC) on the one hand and in-role performance and organizational
citizenship behavior (OCB) on the other. This hypothesis was tested with self-report
data from 63 employees of a German health-service organization that had been involved
in a public scandal shortly before the investigation. As postulated, higher perceived
severity ofthe scandal was associated with a more positive relationship between AOC
and OCB. The hypothesis was not supported for in-role performance.
Attitudinal (or affective) organizational commitment (AOC) is usually defined as quot;the
relative strength of an individual's identification with and involvement in a particular
organizationquot; (Mowday, Porter, & Steers, 1982, p. 27). Thus, in essence, AOC denotes
the emotional attachment of an employee to his or her organization (Allen & Meyer,
1990; Mowday et al., 1982, p. 28). This construct has attracted considerable research
interest over the last three decades (for reviews, see Mathieu & Zajac, 1990; Meyer &
Allen, 1997; Mowday et al., 1982). Research has focused on the plausible hypothesis
that AOC predicts behaviors that are in accordance with organizational norms and thus
are beneficial to the organization. In fact, research revealed positive relations of AOC
with a number of such behaviors, such as performance, attendance, and staying with
the organization (for meta-analyses, see Mathieu & Zajac, 1990; Meyer, Stanley,
Herscovitch, & Topolnytsky, 2002; Riketta, 2002). However, especially the correlations
with performance variables were weak on average. According to the mentioned meta-
analyses, the AOC—in-role performance correlation is around .20, and the AOC—
organizational citizenship behavior correlation is in the range of .20 to .30. In the light
of these generally weak correlations, some researchers explored moderators of the
AOC—work behavior relationship in order to identify conditions under which AOC
had a stronger impact (e.g., Brett et al., 2002; Schaubroeck & Ganster, 1991; Riketta &
Landerer, 2002). The present research was designed to continue these efforts. It focuses
on a moderator variable that has not yet been addressed in research on AOC before:
threat to organizational reputation.
Our hypothesis concerning this variable is derived from recent research on social identity.
Tajfel (1978) defined social identity as quot;that part of an individual's self-concept which
derives from his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together
194 Internationaljournal of Management Vol. 22 No. 2 June 2005
with the value and emotional significance attached to that membershipquot; (p. 63). Since
the 1970s, a large number of social psychological studies have dealt with the antecedents,
consequences, and structure of social identity defmed as defined by Tajfei (for a recent
review, see Brown, 2001). Further, over the last ten years, applications of this research
to organizational settings have increased (e.g., Ashforth & Mael, 1989; Haslam, 2001;
Ouwerkerk, Ellemers, & de Gilder, 1999; van Knippenberg, 2000). One feature of the
social identity approach that makes it particularly attractive for organizational behavior
researchers is that it allows for a theoretical justification of why AOC should relate to
(especially influence) work behavior. Specifically, one of the most influential theories
within this approach, social identity theory (SIT; Tajfei, 1978; Tajfei & Turner, 1986),
assumes that persons have a striving for a positive social identity. According to SIT,
this striving is a derivative from the universal human need for high self-esteem. Thus,
once having identified with a group (called ingroup in the following), a person strives
to achieve or maintain a positive image of that group. The hypothesis follows that the
stronger a person's identification with a group, the stronger that person's efforts at
improving the group's standing relative to other groups. In an organizational context,
this means that, for example, the stronger an employee's identification with the
organizadon, the stronger the employee's motivation to make the organization superior
to competitors or, more generally, to improve the organization's status. This motivation
should translate into better work performance (see van Knippenberg, 2000, for a more
detailed theoretical analysis of the effects of organizational identification on work
motivation). Because identification with the organization is a key component of AOC
as commonly defined and operatiohalized (cf. Allen & Meyer, 1990; Mowday et al.,
1982), this idea can explain why AOC relates positively to performance. This explanation
is crucial for the present research.
We hasten to add that AOC may be positively associated with performance for other
reasons as well. For example, identification with the organization should lead to the
internalization of the organization's work-related norms. Because performing well is
probably a norm of most organizations, jthat internalization process should generally
increase intrinsic performance motivation and therefore lead to better performance.
However, this process is not relevant to the hypothesis tested herein.
According to SIT, a condition under which social identification is particularly likely to
transform into behavior on behalf of the ingroup is when another group (called outgroup
in the following) threatens the ingroup's status (Tajfei & Turner, 1986). This occurs, for
example,, when an outgroup (e.g., another sports team) becomes increasingly successful
on dimensions defining the ingroup (e.g., number of matches won). Such a threat to the
ingroup's status is in confiict with the group member's desire for a positive self-view
and thus motivates him or her to defend, restore, or improve the ingroup's standing
relative to the outgroup. Results from two laboratory experiment by Ouwerkerk, de
Gilder, and de Vries (2000) support this hypothesis. These experiments showed that
social identification (a) correlated posidvely with performance improvement on behalf
of the ingroup when the ingroup had an inferior (experimentally manipulated) status
International Journal of Management Vol. 22 No. 2 June 2005 195
than the outgroup but (b) did not correlate with such performance improvement when
the ingroup had a superior status.
The goal of the present research was to conceptually replicate this finding in an
organizational context. However, in contrast to the former study, we looked at status
threat that was independent of an outgroup. Specifically, our data came from an
organization that had been involved in a corruption scandal. We operationalized status
threat as the extent to which employees perceived the scandal to be detrimental the
organization's public reputation. This variable is called scandal severity in the following.
Extending SIT, we assumed that threats to absolute status (of which public reputation is
an indicator) are functionally equivalent to threats to relative status in that both types of
status threat may activate employees' desire to have a positive social identity and hence
may motivate employees to restore their organization's (absolute or relative) status.
This should occur especially if their identification is high, as suggested by the fmdings
of Ouwerkerk et al. (2000). Thus, on the basis of SIT and the results of Ouwerkerk et al.
(2000), we postulated that the relationship between AOC and performance should be
more positive among employees who reported high versus low scandal severity, that is,
who perceived a strong versus weak threat to the organization's status in form of threat
to public reputation. We tested this hypothesis separately for the two most often studied
types of performance: in-role performance and organizational citizenship behavior. The
former is defined as fulfillment of one's formal job duties whereas the latter is defmed
as behavior that beneficial to the organization but not formally required by the job
Organization and Sample
The study was conducted in a large German health service organization. About one
year before the investigation, a scandal broke when members of the organization were
accused (and later convicted) of accepting bribes. This was reported in the mass media
all across the country. The persons immediately involved in the scandal had been passed
sentence on only a few weeks before our investigation. Again, this was reported widely
in the mass media. Hence, at the time of our investigation, employees could be assumed
to be well aware of the scandal and its possible detrimental effects to the organization's
reputation. Until the scandal broke, the organization had had an unchallenged and
exceptionally positive public image for decades.
We sent a questionnaire via internal mail to 260 employees from multiple sites of the
organization. Sixty-five questionnaires were returned (25% response rate). Sixty-three
of them were usable and provided the data for the following analyses. The analyzed
sample is the same as in the study by Riketta and Landerer (2002).
All data were collected with a self-report questionnaire. On the first page, participants
were told that the survey was for scientific purposes only and that participation was
196 Internationaljournal of Management Vol. 22 No. 2 June 2005
voluntary. Furthermore, on the same page, participants were assured of the confidentiality
of their results and were asked to return the questionnaire directly to the researchers,
with postage to be paid hy licensee. An envelope addressed to the researchers was
attached to each questionnaire.
The remainder of the questionnaire comprised the scales referring to AOC, scandal
severity, in-role performance, and organizational citizenship hehavior alongside
additional scales that were included for purposes independent of the present study (cf.
Riketta & Landerer, 2002). In the following, the scales relevant to the present hypotheses
are described in the same order in which they appeared on the questionnaire. Each item
had to he answered on five-point scales anchored with not applicable at all and wholly
applicable. Answers were coded from 1 to 5 and averaged across items.
In-role performance was measured with four items beginning with quot;In the last six
months...quot;: quot;My supervisor has been satisfied with mequot;, quot;I have been one of the best
employees of [organization] in my districtquot;, quot;I have met the requirements of my jobquot;,
and quot;My colleagues have been respecting me for my performancequot;.
Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) was measured with eight items beginning
with quot;In the last six months...quot;: quot;I have voluntarily done more work than requiredquot;, quot;I
helped colleagues when they had much work to doquot;, quot;I have tried to recruit volunteers
for [organization]quot;, quot;I have voluntarily helped my supervisor with his/her workquot;, quot;I
have spontaneously made suggestions to improve work processesquot;, quot;I have talked
favorably about [organization] to my acquaintancesquot;, quot;I have taken more or longer
breaks during working hours than allowedquot; (reverse scored), quot;I have criticized
[organization] in front of my acquaintancesquot; (reverse scored). The scale was a
modification of the common OCB scale of Smith, Organ, and Near (1983).
AOC was measured with five items adapted from the Organizational Commitment
Questionnaire (Mowday et al., 1982) and the Affective Commitment Scale (Allen &
Meyer, 1990): quot;I am proud to tell others that I work for [organization]quot;, quot;If I could not
work for [organization] any more, I would miss somethingquot;, quot;I have many things in
common with other employees of [organization]quot;, quot;I am still satisfied with my decision
to work for [organization]quot;, quot;I care about the problems of [organization] even if my
workplace is not involved in themquot;.
Scandal severity was measured with five items: quot;The recent scandal has impaired
[organization's] reputationquot;, quot;I think many people currently have a negative opinion of
[organization] due to the negative reports in the mediaquot;, quot;I think that most people's
opinion of [organization] was not influenced by the scandalquot; (reverse scored), quot;I think
that, despite the negative reports in the media, most people still hold [organization] in
high regardquot; (reverse scored), quot;The negative media reports do harm only to particular
employees or areas of [organization] but not to [organization] as a wholequot; (reverse
International Journal of Management Vol. 22 No. 2 June 2005 197
All e values reported in the following are two-tailed. Results with p < .05 and p < .10
are called significant and marginally significant, respectively. Table 1 shows descriptive
statistics for all variables. To test whether the relationships of AOC with in-role
performance and OCB depended on scandal severity, we first z standardized AOC,
scandal severity, and the performance variables. Then we regressed each performance
type on AOC, scandal severity, and the interaction term AOC x Scandal Severity
(computed from the standardized variables). Table 2 displays the results. For OCB as
criterion, a strongly positive and significant beta coefficient for AOC emerged (beta =
•64, g < .001). Thus, like in many previous studies, AOC and OCB were positively
related (see Meyer et al., 2002; Riketta, 2002). Further, scandal severity was unrelated
to AOC (beta = -.06, £=.60). Most important, the interaction was marginally significant
(beta = . 18, E = 09). Figure 1 visualizes this interaction by displaying the AOC—OCB
relationship (simple slopes) for two levels of scandal severity (M + SD and M - SD; cf.
Cohen & Cohen, 1983). As predicted, the relationship was stronger and more positive
Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations, Reliability Coefficients, and
Variable M SD 1. 2. 3. 4.
l.AOC 3.47 1.00 (.84)
2. In-role performance 3.85 0.75 .30* (.69)
3. OCB 3.56 0.71 .63*** .43*** (.71)
4. Scandal severity 4.13 0.64 -.18 .07 -.21 (.69)
Note. N varies between 61 and 63 due to missing data. Scale range is 1-5. Cronbach
alphas are given in parentheses. AOC: attitudinal organizational commitment.
OCB: organizational citizenship behavior. * p < . 0 5 . ***gs.OOl.
Table 2. Regression-Analytic Tests for Moderating Effects of Scandal
Criterion R^ Predictors B SEB P
In-role performance .13* AOC 0.28 0.13 .28*
Scandal Severity 0.08 0.13 .08
AOC X Scandal Severity -0.14 0.11 -.17
OCB .43*** AOC 0.64 0.10
Scandal Severity -0.06 0.10 -.06
AOC X Scandal Severity 0.15 0.09 .18*
Note. N = 62 for each analysis. The criteria, AOC, and Scandal Severity are z
standardized. AOC: attitudinal organizational commitment. OCB: organizational
citizenship behavior. * e < . 10. * E < . 0 5 . ***e<.001.
198 International Journal of Management Vol. 22 No. 2 June 2005
for high versus low scandal severity.
For in-role performance as criterion, a moderate and significant beta weight for
identification emerged (beta = .28, Q. = .03). This, too, confirms the finding of many
previous studies of a positive relationship between AOC and performance (see Meyer
et al., 2002; Riketta, 2002). Scandal severity was unrelated to the criterion (beta = .08,
E = .53). The beta interaction term was also nonsignificant, with the direction of the
interaction contrary of the hypothesis (beta = -.17, p = .19). Thus, our hypothesis was
confirmed for OCB but not for in-role performance.
This study was the first one to explore the role of threat to organizational reputation on
the AOC—performance relationship. Threat was operationalized as the perceived
severity of a scandal in which the organization under study had been involved. We
postulated that the more severe the scandal from employees' perspective, the stronger
the AOC—work engagement correlation. This hypothesis was marginally confirmed
for OCB but was disconfirmed for in-role performance.
The reasons why the hypothesis was confirmed only for one performance type are
unclear. The arguably most plausible explanation is that participants considered OCB
Figure 1. Regression of organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) on
attitudinal organizational commitment (AOC) for low (M - SD) versus
high (M + SD) scandal severity (all variables z standardized).
. . • • • • /
• • •Low scandal severity
/ High scandal severity
-2 1 1 1
-2 - 1 0 1
Internationaljournal of Management Vol. 22 No. 2 June 2005 199
as more instrumental for restoring the organization's image than in-role performance.
However, in this case, the correlation between AOC and OCB should have been
particularly strong for employees who believed that their work behavior was visible to
the public. Using the same sample, Riketta and Landerer (2002) tested exactly this
hypothesis and found that the AOC—OCB relationship was clearly unrelated to public
visibility of work behavior. Yet, they found a moderator effect of this variable on the
AOC—in-role performance relationship. Thus, the above explanation, albeit plausible,
does not seem to apply to the present sample. Hence, finding an explanation for this
unexpected pattern of results remains a challenge for future research. In any case,
however, because the difference between the performance types was unpredicted, one
should await replications before interpreting it further.
Several limitations of our study must be mentioned. First, our correlational data do not
permit causal conclusions. Specifically, our results do not demonstrate that AOC causes
performance and that status threat causes changes in the AOC—performance relationship,
although the theory (SIT) and findings (Ouwerkerk et al., 2000) that underlied our
research do suggest these directions of the causal paths. Second, we used only self-
reported indicators of performance. Self-report measures of work behavior likely lead
to an overestimation of actual work behavior (Harris & Schaubroeck, 1988) and may
lead to inflated correlations due to halo error and mono-method bias. Thus, one should
be cautious with interpreting the means of the analyzed variables and the absolute size
of the correlations obtained herein. However, these effects do not necessarily distort
observed interactions between variables and hence do not necessarily impair the
conclusiveness of our moderator analysis. Third, the present data came from one
particular organization (a German health-service organization) and referred to a particular
type of status threat (a public scandal). The generalizability of our results across
organizations and instances of status threat remain to be explored.
Given these limitations, our results are preliminary. Nevertheless, they (a) do suggest
that employees' concern for the organization's reputation is among the moderators of
the AOC—performance relationship and (b) add to the evidence for the usefulness of
the social identity approach for explaining organizational behavior.
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Contact email address: michael.rikettaOuni-tuebingen.de